A film festival is an organized, extended presentation of films in one or more cinemas or screening venues, usually in a single city or region. Increasingly, film festivals show some films outdoors. Films may be of recent date and, depending upon the festival's focus, can include international and domestic releases. Some festivals focus on a specific film-maker or genre (e.g. film noir) or subject matter (e.g. horror film festivals). A number of film festivals specialise in short films of a defined maximum length. Film festivals are typically annual events. Some film historians, including Jerry Beck, do not consider film festivals official releases of film.
The most prestigious film festivals in the world, known as the "Big Five," are Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Sundance, and Berlin. The Toronto International Film Festival is North America's most popular festival in terms of attendance; Time wrote it had "grown from its place as the most influential fall film festival to the most influential film festival, period". The Venice Film Festival is the oldest film festival in the world.
The Venice Film Festival in Italy began in 1932 and is the oldest film festival still running. Raindance Film Festival is the UK's largest celebration of independent filmmaking and takes place in London in October.
Mainland Europe's biggest independent film festival is ÉCU The European Independent Film Festival, which started in 2006 and takes place every spring in Paris, France. Edinburgh International Film Festival is the longest-running festival in Great Britain as well as the longest continually running film festival in the world.
North America's first and longest running short film festival is the Yorkton Film Festival, established in 1947. The first film festival in the United States was the Columbus International Film & Video Festival, also known as The Chris Awards, held in 1953. According to the Film Arts Foundation in San Francisco, "The Chris Awards (is) one of the most prestigious documentary, educational, business and informational competitions in the U.S; (it is) the oldest of its kind in North America and celebrating its 54th year". It was followed four years later by the San Francisco International Film Festival, held in March 1957, which emphasized feature-length dramatic films. The festival played a major role in introducing foreign films to American audiences. Films in the first year included Akira Kurosawa's Throne of Blood and Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali.
Today, thousands of film festivals take place around the world—from high-profile festivals such as Sundance Film Festival and Slamdance Film Festival (Park City, Utah), to horror festivals such as Terror Film Festival (Philadelphia), and the Park City Film Music Festival, the first U.S. film festival dedicated to honoring music in film.
Film Funding competitions such as Writers and Filmmakers were introduced when the cost of production could be lowered significantly and internet technology allowed for the collaboration of film production.
Although there are notable for-profit festivals such as SXSW, most festivals operate on a nonprofit membership-based model, with a combination of ticket sales, membership fees, and corporate sponsorship constituting the majority of revenue. Unlike other arts nonprofits (performing arts, museums, etc.), film festivals typically receive few donations from the general public and are occasionally organized as nonprofit business associations instead of public charities. Film industry members often have significant curatorial input, and corporate sponsors are given opportunities to promote their brand to festival audiences in exchange for cash contributions. Private parties, often to raise investments for film projects, constitute significant "fringe" events. Larger festivals maintain year-round staffs often engaging in community and charitable projects outside the festival season.
While entries from established filmmakers are usually considered pluses by the organizers, most festivals require new or relatively unknown filmmakers to pay an entry fee to have their works considered for screening. This is especially so in larger film festivals, such as the Cannes Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, South by Southwest, Montreal World Film Festival, and even smaller "boutique" festivals such as the Miami International Film Festival, British Urban Film Festival in London and Mumbai Women's International Film Festival in India.
On the other hand, some festivals—usually those accepting fewer films, and perhaps not attracting as many "big names" in their audiences as do Sundance and Telluride—require no entry fee. Rotterdam Film Festival, Mumbai Film Festival, and many smaller film festivals in the United States (the Stony Brook Film Festival on Long Island, the Northwest Filmmakers' Festival, and the Sicilian Film Festival in Miami), are examples.
Several film festival submission portal websites exist to streamline filmmakers' entries into multiple festivals. They provide databases of festival calls for entry and offer filmmakers a convenient "describe once, submit many" service.
The core tradition of film festivals is competition, that is, the consideration of films with the intention of judging which are most deserving of various forms of recognition. In contrast to those films, some festivals may screen (i.e., project onto a movie screen before an audience) some films without treating them as part of the competition; the films are said to be "screened out..." (or "outside...") "of competition".
In North America, the Toronto International Film Festival is North America's most popular festival. The Seattle International Film Festival is credited as being the largest film festival in the US, regularly showing over 400 films in a month across the city. The Tribeca Film Festival, South by Southwest, New York Film Festival, Woodstock Film Festival, Montreal World Film Festival, and Vancouver International Film Festival are also major North American festivals.
The festivals in Berlin, Cairo, Cannes, Goa, Karlovy Vary, Locarno, Mar del Plata, Montreal, Moscow, San Sebastián, Shanghai, Tallinn, Tokyo, Venice, and Warsaw are accredited by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF) in the category of competitive feature films. As a rule for films to compete, they must first be released during the festivals and not in any other previous venue beforehand. 
Ann Arbor Film Festival started in 1963. It is the oldest continually operated experimental film festival in North America, and has become one of the premiere film festivals for independent and, primarily, experimental filmmakers to showcase work.
In the U.S., Telluride Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, Austin's South by Southwest, New York City's Tribeca Film Festival, London's London Eco-Film Festival and Slamdance Film Festival are all considered significant festivals for independent film. The Zero Film Festival is significant as the first and only festival exclusive to self-financed filmmakers. The biggest independent film festival in the UK is Raindance Film Festival. The British Urban Film Festival (which specifically caters for Black and minority interests) was officially recognized in the 2020 New Year Honours list.
A few film festivals have focused on highlighting specific issues/ subjects. These festivals have included both mainstream and independent films. Some examples include military films, health-related film festivals and human rights films festivals.
There are festivals, especially in the US< that highlight and promote films made by or are about various ethnic groups and nationalities or feature the cinema from a specific foreign country. These include African-americans, Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans, Arabs, Italian, German, French, Palestinian and Native American. The Deauville American Film Festival in France is devoted to the cinema of the United States.
The San Francisco International Film Festival, founded by Irving "Bud" Levin started in 1957, is the oldest continuously annual film festival in the United States. It highlights current trends in international filmmaking and video production with an emphasis on work that has not yet secured U.S. distribution.
The Toronto International Film Festival, founded by Bill Marshall, Henk Van der Kolk and Dusty Cohl, is regarded as North America's most major and most prestigious film festival, and is the most widely attended.
The Sundance film festival founded by Sterling Van Wagenen (then head of Wildwood, Robert Redford's company), John Earle, and Cirina Hampton Catania (both serving on the Utah Film Commission at the time) is a major festival for independent film.
The Woodstock Film Festival was launched in 2000 by filmmakers Meira Blaustein and Laurent Rejto with the goal to bring high quality independent film to the Hudson Valley region of New York. Indiewire has named the Woodstock Film Festival among the top 50 independent film festivals worldwide.
The Regina International Film Festival and awards (RIFFA) founded by John Thimothy, one of the top leading international film festivals in western Canada (Regina, Saskatchewan) represented 35 countries in 2018 festival . RIFFA annual Award show and red carpet arrival event is getting noticed in the contemporary film and fashion industries in Western Canada.
Toronto's Hot Docs founded by filmmaker Paul Jay, is the leading North American documentary film festival. Toronto has the largest number of film festivals in the world, ranging from cultural, independent, and historic films.
The Cartagena Film Festival, founded by Victor Nieto in 1960, is the oldest film festival in Latin America. The Festival de Gramado (or Gramado Film Festival) Gramado, Brazil, along with the Guadalajara International Film Festival in Guadalajara, the Morelia International Film Festival in Morelia, Michoacan Mexico, and the Los Cabos International Film Festival founded by Scott Cross (film director), Sean Cross, and Eduardo Sanchez Navarro, in Los Cabos Baja Sur Mexico are considered the most important film festivals of Latin America. In 2015, Variety called the Los Cabos International Film Festival the "Cannes of Latin America". The Huelva Ibero-American Film Festival has been held since 1975 in that Spanish city.
The Expresión en Corto International Film Festival is the largest competitive film festival in Mexico. It specializes in emerging talent, and is held in the last week of each July in the two colonial cities of San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato. Oaxaca Film Fest. For Spanish-speaking countries, the Dominican International Film Festival takes place annually in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. The Valdivia International Film Festival is held annually in the city of Valdivia. It is arguable the most important film festival in Chile. There is also Filmambiente, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, an international festival on environmental films and videos.
The Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, founded in 2006, is dedicated to screening the newest films from the English-, Spanish, French- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean, as well as the region's diaspora. It also seeks to facilitate the growth of Caribbean cinema by offering a wide-ranging industry programme and networking opportunities.
The Lusca Fantastic Film Fest (formerly Puerto Rico Horror Film Fest) was also founded in 2006 and is the first and only international fantastic film festival in the Caribbean devoted to Sci-Fi, Thriller, Fantasy, Dark Humor, Bizarre, Horror, Anime, Adventure, Virtual Reality and Animation in Short and Feature Films.
Many film festivals are dedicated exclusively to animation.
A variety of regional festivals happen in various countries. Austin Film Festival is accredited by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, which makes all their jury award-winning narrative short and animated short films eligible for an Academy Award.
The International Film Festival of India, organized by the government of India, was founded in 1952. The Kolkata International Film Festival, founded in 1995, is the third oldest international film festival in India. The International Film Festival of Kerala organised by Government of Kerala held annually at Thiruvananthapuram is acknowledged as one of the leading cultural events in Indian.
The International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala (IDSFFK), hosted by the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, is a major documentary and short film festival.
Other notable festivals in India include the Osian's-Cinefan: Festival of Asian Cinema at New Delhi, which recently expanded to include Arab Cinema, Chennai Women's International Film Festival (CWIFF), the Annual Mumbai Film Festival in India, with its US$200,000 cash prize (www.mumbaifilmfest.com), and Mumbai Women's International Film Festival (MWIFF), an annual film festival in Mumbai featuring films made by women directors and women technicians.
There are several significant film festivals held regularly in Africa. The biannual Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) in Burkina Faso was established in 1969 and accepts for competition only films by African filmmakers and chiefly produced in Africa. The annual Durban International Film Festival in South Africa and Zanzibar International Film Festival in Tanzania have grown in importance for the film and entertainment industry, as they often screen the African premieres of many international films.
The Sahara International Film Festival, held annually in the Sahrawi refugee camps in western Algeria near the border of Western Sahara, is notable as the only film festival in the world to take place in a refugee camp. The festival has the two-fold aim of providing cultural entertainment and educational opportunities to refugees, and of raising awareness of the plight of the Sahrawi people, who have been exiled from their native Western Sahara for more than three decades.
The most important European film festivals are Venice Film Festival (late summer to early autumn), Cannes Film Festival (late spring to early summer) and Berlin International Film Festival (late winter to early spring), founded in 1932, 1946 and 1951 respectively.
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